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by Zettel 

Posted: 30 November 2018
Word Count: 122

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I am mind: mind is light
Light and world shadows make
Truth is where I choose to stand
The path I choose to take
I am who I choose to be
Action deeds and will
The world is force – gravity
But I am innocent or guilty still
Knowledge marks where light has been
Belief where we might go
But nothing Good will be seen
Unless we make it so
Hell is other men Sartre once opined
In the shadow where he stood
Trapped by truths he could not find
Hiding from the love of Good
I was light: I was mind
Loving memory now my stone
The legacy I leave behind
With love, only love we are not alone


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Comments by other Members

James Graham at 20:04 on 02 December 2018  Report this post
So far I’ve found this poem rather difficult, though having read your very affirmative last line I can go back to the beginning and begin to see things more clearly. The last line, by the way, is all the stronger for being couched as an epitaph. I also relate to your stanza on Sartre: that he was ‘Trapped by truths he could not find’ has a ring of truth about it.
However, I have difficulty with the early stanzas. It’s not so much a matter of knowing what you mean as of feeling obliged to question it or even disagree with it. For example, can we really say
Truth is where I choose to stand
or even
I am who I choose to be
The former could perhaps be taken to mean ‘What I believe is true is the truth for me, though not perhaps for others, and it’s certainly not any kind of ‘ultimate truth’.  Which is not very different from saying, ‘I live by what I believe’. If we seek a truth which applies, not to the whole of humanity necessarily, but at least across a broad range, it may not be the truth I have chosen to believe. As for the latter, what I am is surely only partially a matter of choice: who we are is partly determined by heredity and partly by the surrounding culture in which we have lived, including our school and higher education. But here I’m venturing cautiously into the realm of philosophy where the landscape is unfamiliar. It would be interesting to know your thoughts on the above
There are other points we could possibly discuss, but I will leave it there for now. I’m confident that when I understand this poem better it will emerge as one that comes together and works well.

Zettel at 02:14 on 03 December 2018  Report this post

I guess the poem is Existential which for me would represent the following:

(I've just junked what was obviously heading into to one of my overlong responses.)

"Truth is where I choose to stand"  simply means that in the indifferent world of facts and force there are verifiable, demonstrable facts and therfore in our intellectual or especially our private lives we can choose to accept the discipline of not denying such truths because is easier or more advantageous to do so. It is to use truth as a guiding principle the exact opposite of the concept of 'true for me'. Such a principle when used to relate to and respond to the physical necessity of the world; will protect one precisely from the delusions and enticemement of 'next world' religious rewards and benefits. Guard against the idea of an absolute truth.

"I am who I choose to be" Is a hard, even implacable principle. The Natural 'world' certainly isn't in any sense 'fair' or 'just' - it is literally indifferent to human life and aspiration. But however hard indeed seemingly impossible it may seem, at times to behave well or refuse to lie to oneself as an excuse for not doing the right thing - it is a good principle to try to live by. If we are what we eat: then we might say we are what we (choose to) do. A hard principle bit one can see that one consequence of it is to never ever give up.  It is a pretty good antidote to the 'victim' principle that seems to guide many in todays world. The 'world' isn't for us or against us: it is a challenge not an enemy. Other people of course are often for and against us and others and we can choose to resist them for ourselves or on behalf of others. We are all as human beings prone to saying 'I don't know what to do' 'I couldn't have done anything else' when in fact we mean that 'I do know what to do but I don't want to do it' and 'I could have done something different but I couldn't face the consequences'. Just because I live in a world of facts and force that essentially I cannot control - that doesn't mean I am not responsible for the actions I take and even their consequences. "I am innocent or guilty still".

In the world fo facts and force -  'value', Goodness enters because indivduals decide to act in certain ways - sometimes badly, sometimes magnificently. we have to make good things happen because if we wait for the 'world' to 'solve things' we'll wait for ever. (Climate Change eg)

How we think: how well we think; how assiduously we value truth to guide our thought; are all important but it is always our actions, the application of our thought to the world and others that matters most.

The most important principle arising from the Existentialist perspective is that is this life is all there is, with no rewards in an after life - then it follows that the one thing we should regard as sacred is this life - because there is no other. Religions usually argue that people can be induced to behave better and not kill or ill-treat others by fear of eternal punishment or promises of eternal rewards. I sometimes wonder looking at world history of wars and destructio0n of people and cultures usually in the name of some God or another, whether it would have been so easy to get men to fight wars and destroy peoples and cultures if everyone was convinced that this is the only life there is and must at all times be treated as sacred in and for itself.

That the human animal includes amongst her instinctive qualities a capacity for love of another (think of mothers eg) that transcends self-interest and even self-preservation sees to me a 'miracle' beside which 'bleeding' virgins and water turned into wine are mere conjuring tricks.

In the end we're all dust. To live on in the memory of others as one who loved well and was well-loved is as good as it gets for me. And I suppose that is the simple, probably cliched 'messge' of my poem.

(Still long - but a bit better perhaps)



Zettel at 02:18 on 03 December 2018  Report this post
It hardly need saying but I of course fall well short of many of the values advocated above. But when I do I try not to pretend that I haven't. That has to be worth something. If only a silver star for effort!

James Graham at 21:31 on 04 December 2018  Report this post
Zettel, thank you for this full explanation of your thinking behind this poem. (It’s quite long – but enlightening!) I’m very drawn to the idea of using ‘truth as a guiding principle’ and believe as a humanist that ‘the delusions and enticement of next world religious rewards and benefits’ must be avoided, as must any ‘idea of an absolute truth’, including secular ‘holy writ’ such as the doctrines of Stalin. I have a theory: that religion has made war more readily acceptable as a legitimate human activity. If soldiers believe in next world rewards, and that this life is a vale of tears, they will more readily, even willingly, give up their lives. The extreme case is the suicide bomber, who apparently believes without the least doubt that after the explosion he will awake in a wonderful place, surrounded by I forget how many virgins. If we had an overwhelming majority of atheists and humanists in the world, is it conceivable that men would willingly sacrifice themselves, knowing that there are no rewards and that death is the end? They might still be conscripted, of course, but resistance would become a force to reckon with.
Having written all this, I see something later in your comment that I seem to have overlooked! You are saying very much the same thing. Well, it’s my belief too. To take it further: I believe that the absolute priority of government should be to promote the wellbeing of the people – to end poverty; to promote medical research until, ideally, all disease can be cured or prevented; to educate children in such a way that they are able to realise their full potential, and so on. Given (in some utopia) that governments were guided by the principle that this life is the only life, with no possibility of ‘next world religious rewards and benefits’, perhaps the wellbeing of the people would suffuse every manifesto.

I can see that ‘I am who I choose to be’ is a hard principle. But your consequence, avoiding the ‘victim’ principle, is very important. I agree without reservation that ‘The world isn't for us or against us: it is a challenge not an enemy’.
I’m sure you know the famous Grand Inquisitor’s speech in Dostoevski’s The Brothers Karamazov. The Inquisitor assures the returned Christ that the people – impoverished medieval peasants under constant threat of deadly disease and having life expectancies of about 30 – will be kept happy (and under control) by the Church:
All will be happy…Peaceable will be their end, and peacefully will they die, in Thy name, to find behind the portals of the grave--but death. But we will keep the secret inviolate, and deceive them for their own good with the mirage of life eternal in Thy kingdom. For, were there really anything like life beyond the grave, surely it would never fall to the lot of such as they!
Well,  my comments can be at least as long as yours! I hope they are more than half as interesting. Finally, ‘To live on in the memory of others as one who loved well and was well-loved is as good as it gets for me’. Indeed. Your poem does convey that message. If only there were more ‘believers’.

Zettel at 01:16 on 07 December 2018  Report this post
Not for the first time James we find ourselves drawing similar conclusions from our no doubt very different histories. I find that very encouraging, not because  that makes us 'right' because the perspectives we partly share are 'life' issues to which there are no 'right' answers to be discovered, only good answers to try to live by. And if two very different people with very different histories can come to some similar 'conclusions' then if we can, others might. It is the fundamental principle of Wittgenstein's later philosophy first that language is and must we first and foremost social: also that our ability to discuss, analyse etc rests upon instinctive human reactions to the world and others which are not themselves analysable or reducible to something else. Most of these reactions are common across the world and neither ethnically nor to a degree culturally specific: Japanese, French, British etc etc may have different words for 'red' but they will all largely pick out the 'same' colour. Of course once that common recognition is established cultural differences begin to work on things and all kinds of distinctions and uses etc emerge. Paradoxically our most basic responses to the world and others, makes it possible for us to disagree and offer differing perspectives.

Those shared instincts can be subtle: e.g. most cultures in the world have a sense of poetry, music, drama, Art etc etc. That our most precious diversities have to rest upon common shared basic responses to the world is for me a comforting even hopeful thought.

I am always conscious that you and I end up, satisfyingly for me, in discussing issues with a degree of importance that goes well beyond the simple poem that prompts them. That's a pleasure to me. And your always generous, thoughtful responses to all the postings in the  Poetry Group is I am sure appreciated as much by other members as they are by me. Your commitment is impressive and much valued.


James Graham at 20:29 on 07 December 2018  Report this post
there are no 'right' answers to be discovered, only good answers to try to live by.
I think I shall quote you on this in conversations with friends, whenever the rights and wrongs of world affairs, or life in general, are being discussed.
When you post your next poem I will try to focus on what I’m supposed to do – the poem – but of course we can discuss issues at length as well.

Zettel at 00:05 on 11 December 2018  Report this post
It's partly my fault James.

All the very best for Christmas and the New Year. And thank again.



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